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Petersburg borough to consider herbicide spraying law

Petersburg’s borough assembly has agreed to consider a local law on herbicide and pesticide spraying, prompted by a change this year in state permitting requirements. The assembly Monday voted to draft a law on use of herbicide and pesticides within the borough. That’s after the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation earlier this year eliminated the public review process and permitting requirement for using the chemicals on state land.

Former city councilor and retired state fishery biologist Barry Bracken urged the assembly to take action, saying that spraying herbicides and pesticides could harm the reputation and habitat for Alaska’s salmon. “Alaska markets our wild salmon to the world, touting our pristine waters,” Bracken said. “Applying toxic chemicals to the upland habitat would certainly make that a questionable claim. Spraying our uplands could negatively impact productivity of local salmon streams. Even the small tributaries are important fish rearing habitat.”

Bracken asked for an outright ban for large spraying programs on land within the borough, or at the least, a local public review process for planned spraying. State agencies do have to give the public notice of plans to spray but no longer have to apply for a DEC permit. DEC officials said the change was intended to help state agencies deal in a timely manner with invasive weeds and other pests.

A critic of the change, Anchorage Democratic representative Les Gara, introduced a bill at the end of this year’s legislative session seeking to establish buffer zones for spraying around salmon streams and drinking water sources. Gara’s bill would also reinstate public input for proposed spraying.

The state Department of Transportation has sought to spray herbicides along state roadways and airports in the past but has opted to cut down the plants instead. In supporting the regulation change last year, a DOT official wrote that the agency intended to spray along some roads, airports and facilities.

Assembly members were supportive of drafting an ordinance, however, John Hoag questioned whether Petersburg could stop state spraying. “My concern is as a general rule of law any political subdivision which is the borough cannot regulate what the state does, because the state is the basis for the borough’s existence, so we need a legal review of that,” Hoag said.

Any proposed ordinance will be reviewed by the borough’s attorney. The assembly voted 7-0 to draft a local law on chemical spraying and will consider the language and details of that ordinance at some later date. The borough also plans to send a letter to the state protesting the elimination of the permitting process for state spraying.

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